By Jo Kadlecek
---- — Ray Novack has never actually seen the Beverly Holiday Parade. As the former director of the Beverly High School marching band (he retired last year), Novack has marched in 35 consecutive parades. At yesterday’s 65th annual parade, he sat atop a silver Mustang convertible as the grand marshal, waving to the thousands of residents who lined Cabot, Elliott and Rantoul Streets, braving the chilly winds to welcome Beverly’s official start of the giving season.
“Usually we (the BHS marching band) are at the end of the parade,” Novack said. “This year, I’m at the beginning, the first time (in 35 years) I haven’t marched, so it’s nice to ride in such an esteemed place of honor. Maybe next year, I’ll actually watch it from the street.”
Novack was one of several hundred participants in this year’s parade, the biggest ever with 50 entries and floats, according to Wendy Kelley, vice president of the parade committee and assistant vice president of Salem Five Bank.
The Kora Shrine Log Rollers from Maine came again to drive their miniature log trucks and raise money for burn victims. The Girl and Boy Scouts were also on hand, along with librarians, firefighters, dance groups, Little Leaguers, Red Cross representatives, Momball team members, mayors and marching bands. Oh, and that guy with the white beard and red suit.
Volunteers from Beverly Bootstraps — this year’s designated charity for the parade — collected canned foods in shopping carts, and other service and school groups collected donations in Christmas bags while tossing candy to children. The parade, which originally began as a way to start the holiday shopping season in downtown Beverly, is now one of the longest-running holiday parades in Massachusetts, Kelley said, and a tradition for many area families.
Tom and Tracey Vaccaro of Beverly have been bringing their sons to the parade for the past four years. Tom, 53, who grew up in Beverly, remembers coming to the parade every year as a child, and sees it as a great way to mark the holiday season.
“It’s the spirit of Christmas, the start of the shopping season, which starts here in earnest,” he said. “Even if there’s a snowstorm, we’d be here.”
The Vaccaros’ son Colby, 7, said he likes the parade for the balloons. Evan, 13, said he likes seeing the floats, “especially the last one (with Santa) because it’s the best decorated.” This year, they even brought Maggie, their golden retriever, for her first parade.
“It’s not Macy’s, but for the North Shore, this parade is good for everyone,” Vacarro said. “But it’s really for the kids. I mean, we gotta see Santa Claus.”
Betty Peabody, 56, of Danvers claimed her spot on the northeast corner of Rantoul and Elliott a full hour before the parade began, wrapping herself in a thick, brown blanket and sitting in her lawn chair. This was her fourth year coming to the same corner for a chance to wave at her grandson, who was marching with Pack 49 of Beverly’s Cub Scouts.
“I get to see the parade twice from this spot, at the beginning close to where it starts (at the Cummings Center) and at the end as it comes up Rantoul,” Peabody said. “It’s really community-related because it brings people outside to cheer others on. Oh, and to see Santa, of course.”
Some of the bands and entertainment in the parade are underwritten in part by Beverly businesses. While some performers are free, others charge and are paid through the fundraising efforts of the parade committee, a volunteer group composed of seven to eight people who live or work in Beverly but that could always use more help, Kelley said. BevCam also filmed the parade and will broadcast it in the coming weeks.
“The parade brings the town together,” Novack said. “It gives everyone a chance to take pride in their community and to prepare for the holidays.”